If you are applying for housing, a law in New Jersey called “The Fair Chance Housing Act” (FCHA) will now protect you from landlords who might discriminate against you because of your past criminal records.
What are my rights under the FCHA?
In most cases, landlords cannot ask about or consider your criminal records during the application process before they make you a conditional offer of housing. A conditional offer means that your housing application has been approved, but still may be subject to satisfactory review of your background check. The FCHA is intended to remove barriers for people with criminal records seeking a place to live in New Jersey.
After a conditional offer, landlords can only consider:
A landlord cannot consider:
Before a conditional offer, landlords can only consider whether you were convicted of manufacturing or producing drugs on the premises of federal housing facilities, or whether you are subject to the Megan’s Law state sex offender registration program.
A landlord can only withdraw a conditional offer if your criminal record demonstrates risk to safety or property and the landlord’s withdrawal of the offer achieves a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.” In making that determination, the landlord must make an “individualized assessment” considering:
If your landlord says your record demonstrates a risk to safety or property, you should gather proof of rehabilitation such as degrees, vocational and educational certifications, good conduct letters, resumes, reference letters from employers, teachers, mentors and prior landlords, and evidence of volunteer, public service and civic activity.
What notice am I entitled to under the FCHA?
A landlord must notify you that your criminal records may be considered but that you will have an opportunity to provide evidence of inaccuracies, rehabilitation, or factors that weigh favorably in review of your offenses.
A landlord must also provide you with written notice if they withdraw a conditional offer because of your criminal record. They must provide specific reasons for the withdrawal and inform you of your right to file a complaint. Within 30 days of the withdrawal, you can request a copy of all information the landlord used to consider your application. The landlord must provide the information without charge within 10 days of your request.
Landlords cannot publish advertisements indicating that they will not consider applicants with a criminal record (except for: 1. drug related activity for the manufacturing or production of methamphetamine in federally assisted housing, or 2, for being subject to a lifetime state sex offender registration program).
What if a landlord violates the FCHA?
Applicants who are denied federally subsidized housing, such as public housing or a unit in a complex where HUD subsidizes the rent, or who are denied a Section 8 or State Rental Assistance Program voucher, have the right to appeal the denial.
If a landlord violates any provision of the FCHA, you can file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights. If the Division finds that a landlord violated the FCHA, they can be fined $1,000 for the first violation, and up to $10,000 if they violated the law two or more times within a seven-year period. You may also be able to have your housing application fee refunded. You can access the Division on Civil Rights online complaint portal, NJ BIAS.
This information last reviewed: Mar 2, 2022